The Garden of Reflection at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup, Maryland, includes a meditative garden space that was envisioned and created by the inmates. It is bordered by a mini-arboretum of saplings that is tended by the inmates. All aspects combine for a powerful metaphoric image: the saplings will be transplanted into the communities outside the prison, much as one day the inmates will leave as they take the next step in their ongoing process of reinvention and growth.

Collaboration amongst a diverse group of inmates and volunteer professionals has added deeper meaning to the creative process and ultimate outcome of the space. Several prison vocational groups work together to enrich and document the garden project. Inmates working on their Master Gardener certification grow and tend the plantings. Inmates in the Prison’s Art Program created the poignant and compelling public artwork and poetry that frame the space. Inmates involved in a pilot video production program developed their technical skills while documenting the project.

The garden reflects and embodies the hopes and needs of the inmates who will use it and was dedicated in 2011.

Excerpted from a MD Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services (DPSC) Press Release:

An Oasis of Calm in the Middle of a Prison

June 27, 2011 – On June 27, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) dedicated its third prison meditation garden. This latest green space, funded by a grant from Annapolis-based Nature Sacred organization, is located at the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup (MCIJ). DPSCS is the only prison agency in the nation to have Nature Sacred green spaces.

At MCIJ, Nature Sacred used professional landscape architects and inmate labor to transform a nondescript concrete passageway into an art-filled, waterfall-enhanced, multi-level green oasis. Large inmate art works are on one side, two waterfalls with differing cascades are on the other. The two-level spot features a trellis, a bench, and plenty of plants and flowers.

Warden Dayena Corcoran says staff and inmates will be able to use the spot—inmates with permission and for group work with chaplains and other correctional specialists. For both staff and inmates, it will be a welcome respite in the midst of what is otherwise a gray concrete-filled environment.

Why have such a spot inside a prison, where people go as punishment for their crimes? The space acts as a calming effect, certainly as much as drivers who are encouraged to slow down by plants and flowers in the median of a highway that’s seen a bad accident. Such spots can take some of the stress out of what is often a very tense environment. For example, they give inmates (who cannot attend loved ones’ funerals) a brief moment to “get away” in the event of a family emergency or death.

DPSCS’ first meditation garden, at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, has a horticulture program and greenhouse, again Nature Sacred-funded. A smaller Nature Sacred green space also exists at Metropolitan Transition Center in downtown Baltimore. The gardens cost no taxpayer money.